A GLANCE at the Premier League table may suggest all is not well at Middlesbrough, where the club’s senior stars are flirting precariously with the prospect of relegation after 10 games without victory.
But one shard of light amid the gloom is not merely a source of consolation to the Teessiders.
The club’s Academy stands as THE example among top flight clubs – and, certainly the North East’s – of an enduring commitment to nurturing young local talent. So while Newcastle appear to be swelling their youth ranks with any Carlos Kickaball Jnr willing to arrive on trial, a scroll through Boro’s schoolboy register reveals kids drawn largely from a stronghold centred on the town itself and spreading to its immediate surrounding areas.
To Stockton and Marske, to Thornaby, Acklam, Billingham and Yarm. The club’s crown jewel is, of course, Stewart Downing, Pallister Park-born and bred, an international under three successive England coaches and, whether his long-term future lies at Boro or not, of substantial worth to his current employers. Alongside Downing in the first team are Redcar’s David Wheater, Hartlepool-born Andrew Taylor and, from Newton Aycliffe, Ross Turnbull, the latest fledgling to be given his wings.
And behind them – but not far behind – are Tony McMahon (Bishop Auckland), Adam Johnson (Easington) and Matthew Bates (another Stocktonian). Such blanket coverage does not occur overnight, however. The Academy was established as long ago as Bryan Robson’s Riverside reign, suggesting considerable foresight, given the club’s spending at the time and today’s thriftier times.
And under the guidance of Dave Parnaby, a dedicated network of scouts and coaches has subsequently been put in place to ensure the system’s success which, while 2004’s FA Youth Cup triumph was a welcome bonus, is more accurately measured in the rounded education of its graduates, and their eventual promotion to the senior squad. Never has that success been more clearly realised than the day of May 7, 2006. The make-up of Steve McClaren’s last Premier League game in charge of Boro was, in part, dictated by the club’s appearance in the Uefa Cup final three days later.
Nonetheless, a 1-0 defeat at Fulham featured 10 products of the Academy in the starting line-up – Malcolm Christie also played – with an average age of around 20.
Now, though, it is not even only about furnishing the first team but providing a rare source of income. Captaining that day was Lee Cattermole, sold last summer to Wigan for £3.5m. Before him, Andrew Davies and James Morrison were offloaded to Southampton and West Brom for a combined sum of £2.5m.
So £6m raised, and at what cost? Peanuts.
And if that does not convince Newcastle – and others – of the value of focusing on and rearing local talent, this should; the latest starlet to progress through Boro’s ranks, Josh Walker, is a credit to the club and its Academy, and a damning indictment of Newcastle’s.
He is from Cramlington.